Hugo Chávez was elected President in December for a third six-year term. In April Venezuela abandoned the Andean Community of Nations trading block, after Colombia and Peru signed free trade agreements with the USA, and joined the South American trade group Mercosur. The government continued to establish social programmes aimed at the most vulnerable, including programmes to improve access to education, health and housing. The independence and impartiality of the judiciary continued to be questioned. There were serious concerns that the proliferation of small arms was fuelling an increase in violence.
Impunity, intimidation and harassment
Human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances perpetrated by members of the security forces remained unpunished.
• In July the bodies of eight people, including two children, were found on a ranch in the villages of La Victoria and El Nula in Alto Apure region, on the border with Colombia. Their hands were tied and they had been shot and their bodies burned. Witness accounts and initial evidence obtained by the police indicated that several members of the military had been involved in the killings. Despite this, only one member of the military was charged and tried for this crime. Human rights organizations alleged that this was part of a wider pattern of human rights violations by the same military unit against rural communities in Apure state.
• Melquiades Villaroel was threatened in February after a judge sentenced five police officers to 25 years' imprisonment for the killing of her son Rafael Moreno Villaroel and two others, including a child, in El Tigre, Anzoátegui state, in March 2001.
• There were concerns for the safety of the Mendoza family in Araure, Portuguesa state, following a shooting at their house in March. The Mendoza family had taken part in the trial of 11 police officers accused of the killing of seven people, including three members of their family.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders continued to be threatened and intimidated. In May the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reiterated its concern at threats and other open hostility towards human rights defenders by government officials who publicly referred to human rights defenders as "coup plotters" and agents of instability.
• In April, María del Rosario Guerrero and her husband, Adolfo Martínez Barrios, were victims of an attempted assassination in Guárico state. They had been the subject of a campaign of defamation and intimidation since 2001, apparently linked to María del Rosario Guerrero's allegations of human rights violations by the police in Guárico state. By the end of the year, María del Rosario Guerrero was receiving protection, following a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
• In September, the Public Ministry recommended the dismissal of the case and closure of the investigation into the threats and acts of intimidation against members of the human rights organization COFAVIC (Comité de Familiares de Víctimas de los sucesos de Febrero-Marzo de 1989). A court ruling on the recommendation was pending at the end of the year. Staff from COFAVIC feared for their safety as the dismissal of this case might mean the withdrawal of police protection.
There were concerns that a draft law on international co-operation which would allow government officials to decide which non-governmental organizations could access international funds, could be used to restrict the work of human rights defenders.
Violence against women
Violence against women remained a concern. In November the National Assembly passed the Organic law on the right of women to a life free of violence. The law criminalized physical, sexual and psychological violence in the home, the community and at work, as well as forced sterilization, trafficking, forced prostitution, and sexual harassment and slavery. The law established tribunals specializing in cases of gender-based violence.
Attacks against journalists
Threats and attacks against journalists continued.
• The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States expressed concern about the killing in April of Jorge Aguirre, a photographer for the newspaper El Mundo. He was reportedly shot dead at a demonstration in Caracas protesting against high levels of crime and insecurity, following the kidnapping and killing of three students. A former police officer was charged with the shooting. At the end of the year he was awaiting trial.
• In August, Jesús Flores Rojas, Co-ordinator of the newspaper Región in El Tigre, Anzoátegui state, who had exposed corruption by local civil servants, was shot eight times in the head while he was parking his car in front of his house. The men allegedly responsible for the shooting were reportedly shot and killed by police. Three police officers were reportedly detained, accused of involvement in the killing of Jesús Flores Rojas. At the end of the year it was not known whether the Public Ministry had pressed charges.
AI country reports/visits
• Venezuela: Open letter to candidates in the December 2006 presidential elections (AI Index: AMR 53/008/2006)
AI delegates visited Venezuela in July.